The NBA lottery is tonight. For the 32nd year it has been this way. The worst teams get a chance at redemption via young talent. But it is just a wing and a prayer. For a short moment, bad teams swallow the reasoning and logic Kool-Aid. Instead they inhale a dream. But let’s be real. These are 19 year olds who have zero idea how to play NBA basketball. They think they know. They do not. And so it lands us here again and again, talking about a number one pick as if he can be a savior. All he can be is 19.
The draft lottery’s inaugural season began on shaky ground when in 1985 the envelope was frozen. Allegedly, that was a secret signal for the Knicks, to give them the first pick and Patrick Ewing, the best player in the country. Later the system went to ping pong balls.
Before the lottery, there was the coin flip. The worst team in each division flipped a coin to see who would get the pick at the top. It is how Magic Johnson ended up in Los Angeles instead of Chicago, the coin flip. Before the coin flip there were territorial picks where teams could pick college players from their area. So the Lakers would be able to draft Lonzo Ball (UCLA). The Hornets would have the rights to Jayson Tatum (Duke) or Dennis Smith (NC State). The Heat could draft Jonathan Issac (Florida State).
All of these ways to help pathetic organizations remain awful by throwing them an olive branch and then saying to them, without mercy, leave us alone, you are on your own now.
The lottery is a promise. Often promises cannot deliver on what their intention was supposed to be. The NBA product is in despair and the lottery is not helping because it is delivering into the NBA players who are nowhere near ready. This backwards system of reward doesn’t benefit the manchild in the promised land players who find themselves on a miserable team and getting thrown to the wolves, destroyed on a nightly basis.
Let The Rookies Be Free Agents
What if…? What if the rookies were free agents. It would work like this. Give the worst records in the NBA, all 14 teams that didn’t make the playoffs a financial stipend to pay one player. Example: the Brooklyn Nets are given a salary of $6 million to offer a rookie. Then the Suns are given $5.5 million and Lakers are given $5.2 million and down the line, each non-playoff team offered a rookie salary they could pass out. The rookies would continue as usual, participating in the combine. Teams would hold workouts and interviews. A period of two days would be frozen. No workouts. No interviews. Nothing. Silence. After the moratorium was lifted, players decide who they want to play for with a full understanding of the salary, their role on the team, the expectations. The teams lock in their choice electronically to avoid multiple teams believing they have the rights to the same player.
What this would do is force really pathetic organizations to get better fast and in a hurry. General Managers would not have the power of their job institutionalized despite a lack of productivity. Agents would direct their players to those organizations that are well run and have people in charge that have established a style of play and a plan of what the future looks like. The player is responsible for his own fate. The General Managers would have to work harder and couldn’t depend on the NBA to be their savior via the lottery.
Would this system help big market teams? Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s look at the teams in the lottery this year. If rookies were free agents, wouldn’t they rather go to Minnesota and play with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns or New Orleans and play with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins then L.A. and have to deal with the headache that is D’Angelo Russell?
This is a system that rewards strong front offices who have experienced and competent scouting. Rookies would be no different than any other free agent seeking a franchise that has a durable infrastructure. The size of the city would be irrelevant.
As far as the financial part of the rookie free agent contract, the rookie would have three guaranteed years that don’t go on the salary cap. Their fourth year is a team option and if the team picks up the option then the salary is on the cap. The rookies still are restricted free agents with their second contract.
The players win. The organizations win because laziness is not incentivized. The fans win.
What Is Wrong With the Lottery?
The Draft Lottery embraces and celebrates losing and it offers no penalties for absurd front offices who follow Freud’s prescription for insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I don’t care how many shout outs Joel Embiid does on behalf of The Process, the Lottery creates losers. Let’s look at the 14 teams in the lottery and count how many times they have been there since 2007.
Los Angeles Lakers: 2017 is their fourth straight year in the lottery. They have not gotten better. They have stayed awful.
Sacramento Kings: They have been in the lottery every single year since 2007. What has changed? They drafted a talent in DeMarcus Cousins. But what has changed?
Phoenix Suns: They have been in the lottery 8 out of the last 9 years. Devin Booker is a talent but the Suns still had the 2nd worst record in the NBA.
Dallas Mavericks: Mark Cuban knows the lottery is bad for business. No one is paying high ticket prices to see 19 years old who don’t know how to play. The Mavs have only been in the lottery twice since 2007.
New Orleans Pelicans: Getting Boogie didn’t keep them out the lottery for the sixth time since 2007.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Back-to-back Rookies of the Year and back-to-back Slam Dunk Champions still cannot save the T-wolves. Haven’t been in the playoffs since KG went to Boston. This year is the 11th year without a playoff appearance. They have been in the lottery 10 times since 2007.
Detroit Pistons: We thought the Pistons made a breakthrough with their playoff appearance last year but they have Reggie Jacksons so this is what happens. In the lottery 6 times since 2007.
Miami Heat: Pat Riley works hard to keep his team out the lottery, despite grabbing Dwyane Wade in 2003. This is the third lottery trip since the Heat won 15 games in 2007-08.
Orlando Magic: The Lottery is not their friend post Shaq and Dwight. They keep winding up there and have yet to get a franchise player. How is the lottery helping them? This is their fifth lottery appearance since 2007.
Charlotte Hornets: They had a breakthrough last year. This year it’s welcome back to your old life. Since 2007, they have been in the lottery nine times. Ouch.
New York Knicks: I know the Knicks think they created basketball but this is their fourth lottery trip. What have they learned exactly?
Philadelphia: The Process was good for one thing. Making everyone hate the lottery and want to change it. And what has it produced? Nerlens Noel was traded. Ben Simmons has yet to play. Jahlil Okafor is so-so. And Joel Embiid continues to have knee issues. Seven years in the lottery since 2007.
Denver Nuggets: Like the Lakers, good draft picks but fourth year in the lottery.
Boston Celtics: Fleeced the Brooklyn Nets for draft picks, the lottery isn’t going to help the Celtics. They need a superstar. But it will give them leverage for a trade like Paul George. The C’s are the big winners in the lottery, guaranteed a top-3 pick because the Nets had the worst record. Fourth time in the lottery since 2007.
14 teams. 83 times in the lottery. You do the math.
Is this a system that works?